As the exodus of authors and editors from the University of Missouri Press escalates, a rally, billed as “A Celebration of the University of Missouri Press,” was held Tuesday afternoon on the university’s main campus in Columbia. About 100 people attended the event, which was organized by the grassroots Coalition to Save the University of Missouri Press. The program featured 12 editors, authors, and others reading selections from books published by the press since it was founded 54 years ago. Clair Willcox, the recently-ousted editor-in-chief, concluded that portion of the program by reading a selection from Bright Light City: Las Vegas in Popular Culture by Larry Gragg. Bright Light City was to be published by the University of Missouri Press, but now will be published by the University Press of Kansas in spring 2013.
Author William Least Heat-Moon who, in July, publicly pledged a five-figure donation to endow the press if the university rescinded the restructuring, urged the crowd to continue protesting the “bogus” new press model, which would emphasize digital publishing platforms and students earning academic credit by working alongside a small staff of paid professionals.
“Least Heat-Moon pointed out that he has no books with the press, that he’s speaking out as someone who recognizes good scholarship and injustice when he sees it,” Jane Lago, a retired managing editor with the press, told PW Daily.
Hours before the rally began, two more editors of about a half-dozen active series published by the press sent letters of resignation to University of Missouri president Timothy Wolfe, bringing the number up to four. To date, 45 authors have demanded that the rights to their books published by the press revert back to them.
John C. McManus, the editor of the American Military Experience Series and a professor at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, wrote in his letter of resignation that his initial inclination when he heard of the changes proposed at the press was to continue editing his series “out of loyalty to the university and the state of Missouri” despite the staff layoffs.
“Subsequently, much new information has come to light about the various back channel maneuverings and the haphazard decision making that has ultimately led to the birth of this new UM Press,” he wrote, “This has led me to wonder about the new press’s level of commitment to scholarship.”
In the second letter of resignation received by President Wolfe Tuesday, Jon L. Wakelyn, the co-editor of the press’ Shades of Blue and Gray series, complained that he first heard of the changes made at the press from the New York Times; he has yet to be contacted by anyone at the press. “This is most insulting,” he wrote, “I also have authors in the pipeline who will lose their books, and that is most unethical.”
Wakelyn asked that the university release the the series to its co-editors, so that they can take it to another press.
“Other university presses are interested,” he wrote, “We would like the opportunity to continue to publish our good authors.”